Today we marched across the plains above the abandoned whaling station Stromness, and then in the afternoon visited Grytviken where most of the 30 or so people who live on South Georgia call their home. Both Stromness and Grytviken are important names in the greatest story of survival in the history of polar exploration. Yes I am talking about Ernest Shackleton. I can't do the story justice here so if this post peaks your interest follow the interweb for the whole tale.
Shackleton in 1914 left England and set off on an expedition consisting of 27 men on board the sailing vessel Endurance. His hope was to become the first man to cross Antarctica. Due to an unusually thick ice pack and a freak wind shift they were trapped in the Weddell Sea not far from their planned Antarctica landing where they drifted frozen on the ice flow for many months until the ship was crushed by ice and finally sunk. The men eventually made their way to Elephant Island in 3 lifeboats, but given that there was no hope of rescue, Shackleton set off with 4 other men in a makeshift 23 ft sail boat with a mostly open deck. 16 days and 800 miles later they arrived on the desolate west shores of South Georgia, where due to the condition of their craft, Ernest was forced to cross the mountainous spine of the island on foot. 36 hours later despite the lack of any surveys on the island they managed to find their way to the small whaling station of Stromness and were then taken to Grytviken where Shackelton mounted 3 rescue attempts to save the men on Elephant island. The 4th (the first major Chilean Navy rescue mission) was successful and miraculously, every man survived the ordeal.
This morning we walked 2.5 km in a howling head wind (which swung against us on the way back) to the waterfall Shackelton was forced to rappel down to reach civilization after his ordeal slogging across the glaciers and peaks from the other side. It was a fitting start to a challenging day where many felt Shackelton's pain as they walked back from the edge of the cliff. Shackelton probably hadn't had food for 2 or 3 days and really hadn't had anything nourishing for about a year. We all hadn't been fed for at least an hour and were certainly feeling the effects. On the way back to the ship we were hit by a number of gusts and shortly after that a good blow clocked 60 knots on the ships wind meter.
We then moved down island to Grytviken where we braved many aggressive and viscous fur seals to wander amongst the creepy remains of the horrible history of this place. The scale of death here has been documented in uncensored fashion as you are taken through the process of carving up and distilling first seals and sea lions and then whales over a period of a couple of hundred years.
We have one more day on South Georgia and another 5am wake up call so we can squeeze in a few more wildlife viewing expeditions before we blast down to Antarctica. Many on board are now picking and choosing their adventures with care and keeping their energy as high as possible by consuming as many chocolate cookies as are available.
In the wake of Shackleton, Karina and I will endure these difficult days aboard the World Explorer.